HOUSTON -- As Tom Coughlin left the New York Giants locker room late Sunday afternoon wearing a dark suit, he looked far different than the coach we saw two weeks ago, one who was again in the role of defending his methods while trying to keep the vultures at bay.
That's what beating up a good Houston Texans team on their home field can do for a coach.
|After a few hiccups in the first three weeks, Tom Coughlin's Giants are again heading the right way. (Getty Images)|
Word of warning to the rest of the NFC: The Giants will be a factor come January.
Coughlin, at 64 the oldest coach in the NFL, seems to flourish in this type of situation, turning a team that everyone is counting out into something that can't be discounted.
It was that way when the Giants won the Super Bowl under him in 2007, a wild-card team that won three road games and then upset the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl when nobody gave them a chance.
"The challenge of everybody telling you that you can't, that you shouldn't or you won't works," Coughlin said before walking to the team bus. "I had great belief in what we're doing. I feel good about this team, about these players."
After two consecutive losses dropped the Giants to 1-2, former Giants player Tiki Barber said Coughlin was facing a "crisis" and that he was losing the team. That was Barber's biggest wrong since his alleged cheating on his pregnant wife.
In successive weeks, the Giants have blown out the Chicago Bears and the Texans, their first two-game winning streak since they won their fifth game last season.
It didn't help Coughlin that safety Antrel Rolle, in his first season with the team, came out and publicly said he wasn't having fun playing with the Giants.
I asked Rolle about that comment Sunday, and he didn't want to discuss what he had said. He did offer this: "We're having fun now," he said. "That's all that matters."
When I asked veteran guard Rich Seubert about having fun, he chuckled.
"Who said we're not having fun?" he said. "I have a blast when I play football. Football is hard work. You can have fun sometimes, but you have to work. It's football. If you want to have fun, go be a clown."
They had fun Sunday beating up a good Texans team. It was their day from the start. The Giants jumped to a 21-0 lead and never were threatened. The Giants had 26 first downs to 11 for the Texans. The Giants had 414 yards of offense to 195 for the Texans.
|More on Giants-Texans|
Houston running back Arian Foster came in as the NFL's leading rusher, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He was held to 25 yards on 11 carries for a 2.3 average. Without the running game, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub struggled to keep up with a Giants offense that was special on this day.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning had a good day, throwing for 297 yards and three touchdown passes. Manning picked on the Houston corners, who were often in single coverage, begging the question why.
Hakeem Nicks, the Giants' second-year receiver, continued to show why he's emerging as a big-play threat. He had 12 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. If he didn't drop another sure touchdown, it would have been an even bigger day.
"I took my eyes off it trying to get to the end zone," Nicks said. "I saw all the green grass trying to get there."
This, though, was a battle of the lines. The Giants whipped both Houston fronts, which wasn't the case for New York during its 1-2 start.
The defense, especially the front, has really come together the past two weeks. The Giants had three sacks and forced a Schaub fumble with their pressure against the Texans' line. That came seven days after getting 10 sacks against the Bears.
The Giants appear to be gaining confidence in the scheme employed by first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewel.
It helped that they held two players-only meetings after the two losses, a time to air out their troubles.
"We knew we had too much talent," safety Deon Grant said. "We had to take advantage of it. We just had to put it together. That's why we had the big meetings. All of the leaders called it. We got too undisciplined on defense. We just had to talk it out. We weren't playing the defense the way it was supposed to be played."
|New York Giants|
|The Giants created constant pressure with their front four and nearly dominated time of possession by a 2:1 ratio. The defense maintained gap control against Arian Foster and held him to a season-low 25 yards.|
|Houston's young secondary gave up two TDs and nearly 100 yards to Giants WR Hakeem Nicks. Hampered by injury, the team's two marquee players -- Andre Johnson and Mario Williams -- were non-existent in the first half.|
|By Matt Rybaltowski|
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Undisciplined is not a word you expect to hear about a Coughlin-coached team. His rigidity and attention to detail can wear on players, but Grant said it wasn't the coach who was the problem.
"He was doing his job," Grant said. "Once the clock went on, we just forgot everything we did all week. We have enough older guys on this team that he doesn't have to keep harping on it."
Coughlin once called turnovers a "callous disregard for the football." So when the Giants turned it over 13 times in the first four games, it was going to be an issue.
"We were on pace for some kind of record," Coughlin said. "We were killing ourselves with the turnovers, the penalties, missed assignments. All of it. The Indianapolis loss (38-14) made people say, 'What is that all about?' But we should have beat Tennessee. We lost it in a bad way."
That loss set off the Bill Cowher-to-the-Giants talk. The former Pittsburgh coach might be ready to get back into the league, so it's natural when things start going bad in New York that there is a legion of fans and media members who want to push Coughlin out the door.
The reality is the Super Bowl victory gives Coughlin cache that probably should keep him around into 2011, no matter what happens.
The Texans game can remind some of how Coughlin and these Giants seem to relish the role of being told they can't.
When I asked Giants guard Chris Snee, Coughlin's son-in-law, why he and his teams are so good in this role, he had a quick response.
"Mental toughness," Snee said.
There might be no better two-word description for Coughlin, who has mellowed since coming into the league in 1995 as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coughlin hasn't aged much, but the changes in him are apparent. He seems much more like the grandfather he is (10 grandchildren) than the mean nasty ogre players despised early in his career and the man who used to call my house early in the morning cursing when I covered his team as a beat man.
Coughlin now has the Giants back off the deck in a big way, putting Cowher rumors to sleep for another week. And no matter how many times Tiki Barber tries to run him out of town, the reality is Coughlin is a good coach and again has a good team.
"It's week to week," Coughlin said. "You just have to deal with it that way. But this was a good one for us."
There will be a lot more good ones the rest of the way. You can forget about burying this team.